Dr Phil Is a Bully
If you don’t know who Dr Phil is, his real name is Phillip Calvin McGraw. He had a popular long-running American television talk show called “Dr. Phil” where he offered advice to guests based on his experience in psychology. Now it seems he’s moving on to a prime-time partnership scheduled for early 2024.
Let’s start with the legality of his show. The advice Phil gave on it was legally not medical advice. However, that’s completely immaterial because it’s entirely foreseeable that those who watch it take it as medical advice anyways. Just look at the name of the show. Regardless of the legality, he undeniably has a responsibility to give good professional advice.
This would be less of a problem if the advice he gave were actually good, but it’s often nothing more than bullying and shaming mentally ill people on national television. I’m going to be providing evidence to back up that claim, starting with the episode with Buffy Actor Nicholas Brendon.
Humiliating Nicholas Brendon
The episode begins with its comically overdramatized and sensationalized rapid cut scenes characteristic of American reality TV, which in the case of the Dr. Phil show are frequently unflattering to his guests. This episode was no exception.
After the cut scenes, Phil begins by asking Nicholas to talk about why he’s on the show. Nicholas talked about how he realized that his alcoholism was a “symptom of a deeper-rooted issue” related to personal trauma, something he never understood before and something that he wanted to “take care of”.
Phil then inquired further and Nicholas went on to explain that one thing he wanted to do was let the public know that people who suffer from alcoholism exist, that they’re not bad people, and that they need help. Phil just sort of dismissed this saying “Now that we’ve done that and we have 59 minutes left…what else did you wanna talk about?” to which Nicholas replied “I don’t know. What do you wanna talk about? It’s your show.” Nicholas’ seemingly defensive response here made perfect sense and I’ll explain why.
Phil had two clear opportunities to support Nicholas and failed. He could’ve repeated back what Nicholas said to show that he understood. He could’ve agreed since Nicholas’ alcoholism likely was a symptom of trauma. He could’ve praised Nicholas for recognizing that the root of the problem wasn’t alcohol or shown an interest in what experiences led Nicholas to that discovery. He could’ve agreed that alcoholism is a disease and not just a character flaw. There are many things Phil could’ve done to build a rapport to show Nicholas that they were on the same side, but he didn’t.
I’m not a clinical psychologist, but even I recognize that building a rapport with someone you want to help is important. Think about it. If you don’t know if someone has your best interest in mind, if you think that they might judge you or misunderstand you, will you want to talk to them about your darkest moments or the challenges you face? Will you want to share your feelings with them? Probably not. So it’s no wonder that Nicholas responded in a defensive way after Phil failed to build a rapport and showed that he wasn’t interested in anything Nicholas said by immediately moving on.
So then Phil started reading off the fact that Nicholas was in a lot of debt, “lost” his apartment, and had been to rehab twice. When Phil asked if all that was true, Nicholas corrected him saying that he did not lose his apartment, but rather gave it up to move. Phil interrupted Nicholas in a rude and dismissive way, falsely accusing him of getting evicted for “breaking all the windows out in a rage”. Nicholas corrected Phil again saying he wasn’t evicted twice.
Of course, Phil made no apology for the false accusation nor did he even acknowledge Nicholas correcting him twice. At that point, judging by Nicholas’ body language and his very visible irritation, I think he started to realize that Phil wasn’t really interested in listening to him nor helping him and definitely wasn’t on his side. He made it clear to Phil that he wasn’t going to stay on the show and allow Phil to humiliate him.
Phil then asked Nicholas “How’s your life working for you?” Nicholas answered “It’s good and it’s bad…It’s not horrible.” Phil didn’t take a moment to contemplate Nicholas’ answer. He didn’t acknowledge Nicholas’ point of view at all. He didn’t inquire as to what’s good and what’s bad about it from Nicholas’ perspective. Instead, he started rattling off negative things about Nicholas’ life: “Well you’ve been arrested five times in eight months…fifty thousand dollars in debt and you can’t get work…” and then went on to falsely accuse Nicholas of being drunk, saying he smelled alcohol on him. Nicholas clarified that he wasn’t drunk and even offered to submit to a breathalyzer to prove it.
At this point, everything was going very poorly thanks to Phil. Not only did Phil fail to build rapport, but he made multiple false allegations not even acknowledging Nicholas’ repeated corrections. He showed a rude and dismissive attitude towards Nicholas’ perspective, interrupting him, implying the opposite of what Nicholas was saying, and continuing to read off negative things about Nicholas’ life, all of which Nicholas immediately owned up to.
Phil seemed so thirsty to paint this guest in a bad light, but he just couldn’t. And there was no reason for it. Nicholas was courteous and polite to Phil. He genuinely seemed like someone who wanted to get better. Meanwhile Phil continued punching down and being an asshole to him.
Finally, Phil asked Nicholas if he drank last night, which the guest admitted to. Phil then said that he got a report that his guest was at a bar last night, which prompted Nicholas to say “I’m done.” and walk off the stage. He asked if the exits were open, but Phil just ignored him and continued reading about his night of drinking. So he left. Good on him.
Now what therapeutic value was there in Phil bringing up Nicholas being drunk last night in that way? What made it even more obvious that humiliation was Phil’s goal is that he continued reading about Nicholas’ night at the bar even after Nicholas walked off the show. The guest was gone. Any possible therapeutic value from reading about it was surely gone, and yet he continued anyways.
As icing on the cake, Phil’s camera crew followed Nicholas, recording him even as he left despite him asking them to stop multiple times.
This guy came on Phil’s show for help, but Phil only humiliated him. This episode alone should’ve triggered the end of Phil’s television career.
Blaming a Domestic Abuse Victim
Phil also seems to have some beyond-stupid boomer beliefs. One being that men can’t face domestic abuse.
On one episode of Dr. Phil, he blamed a male victim of domestic violence for defending himself against:
- Being attacked with “football moves and tackles”
- Being punched
- Being kicked in the face
- Being given a bloody nose
- Being scratched in the face, neck, and chest
- Having a chair swung at him
- Having his mouth cut up
Phil plainly stated “I don’t care what she does.” and told the abused guy to just walk away. Then he accused the guy of “putting his hands on a woman in anger” even though, according to the guy, it was self-defense. Of course, Phil’s disgusting audience applauded that and were also laughing while the guy was describing the abuse.
Bullying a Domestic Abuse Victim
Meanwhile the guy, realizing that nobody in the room was on his side, starting smiling. It’s hard to say why he was smiling. It may have been a nervous smile. Who knows. Phil berated him for it nonetheless and continued lecturing him about how he was wrong to defend himself, calling him a “chickenshit coward”. At that point, the guy decided he was done with Phil’s humiliation tactics and outdated opinions and got up to leave.
Blackmailing a Domestic Abuse Victim
To prevent the man from leaving early so that Phil could humiliate him more on national television, Phil blackmailed him by threatening him with a year of jail time and a ten thousand dollar fine over some stuff he broke in his hotel room. Not only was this incredibly manipulative, unprofessional, and unhelpful, but it might’ve even been illegal. You can’t blackmail someone with jail time into participating in your faux therapy session where you’re humiliating them for television ratings. The police backstage should’ve arrested Phil for blackmailing him. That’s a far more serious crime than vandalism.
Let’s not forget that Phil is strapped with cash anyways. The last estimate I saw he was making eighty million dollars a year. He spends it on expensive watches. He doesn’t give a fuck about paying for some broken stuff in a guest apartment. He could wipe his ass with that money. He just wanted to punish and humiliate this victim of domestic abuse who came to him seeking help.
Phil then proceeded to paint himself as the hero saying that the guy was there “by his grace”, as if blackmailing him into enduring Phil’s public humiliation under the threat of jail time on national television was “grace”. Phil’s moronic audience apparently thought as much because they all applauded him. Then Phil proceeded to weaponize his army of useful idiots against the domestic abuse victim by asking them to stand up in agreement that the guest was a coward.
Again, there is no therapeutic value in this. The domestic abuse victim already understood that the audience was against him. What was gained from Phil weaponizing his audience in that way? The guest wanted to leave. He was clearly very uncomfortable and had every right to be. His concerns were mocked and he was called a coward. Phil bullied, intimidated, humiliated, and illegally blackmailed him all the while taking the side of his abuser. This is not what helping people looks like.
Sending Teens to an Abusive Deadly Labor Camp
For troubled teens, Phil has long promoted Turnabout Ranch, a place he called “a very serious, responsible place” that runs a “therapy” program. Except it’s not therapy. Turnabout Ranch is filled with unqualified staff who create a highly abusive and dangerous environment. Multiple former patients have spoken out against the facility accusing them of torture and sexual abuse, most notably Danielle Bregoli.
I understand she might not be everyone’s cup of tea as a social media personality, but she tells the truth about the ranch. If you don’t believe her, just read the Yelp reviews. I’ll list just a few here:
- “This is not therapy it’s mental and mind control”
- “Please never send your children here unless you want them to get abused and molested”
- “blistering hellhole of human rights violations. Would rate negative stars if I could.”
- “an internment camp for LGBTQI+ youth”
- “one of the kids had MURDERED a STAFF member and me and the kids there were traumatized!”
- “give them a call and ask how many children have passed away at this camp. And ask what the cause of death was.”
It’s true. Numerous children died due to staff negligence, resulting in lawsuits against the ranch.
As Danielle Bregoli pointed out in the video I linked above, it’s very hard to believe that Phil didn’t know about any of this. He continued sending children to the ranch despite outstanding abuse allegations that could’ve been uncovered with a superficial amount of research. When Phil was interviewed about the abuse, he just played dumb. The interviewer didn’t even press him about the abuse, but rather proceeded to character assassinate Danielle with unflattering clips of her thirteen-year-old self and then lamented about how teachers are no longer allowed to hit children in schools.
There’s So Much More…
If I were to create a comprehensive list of everything awful about the Dr. Phil show, I’d probably have to write about every episode. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time for that. But I will mention a few more notable things.
Besides what I’ve already mentioned, I also found out that Phil and/or his production crew allegedly created a toxic workplace, apparently believed in the pseudoscience of polygraphs, humiliated a depressed young adult for living with his grandmother, told a mother not to let her son play with barbie dolls, made spectacles of schizophrenic people, encouraged guests to act crazy for ratings, allegedly provisioned alcohol to an alcoholic and gave him a Xanax (a deadly combination) before coming on the show, allegedly withheld a guest’s medication to make them seem “crazy”, and actively sought out vulnerable people including Britney Spears, to which he later issued a non-apology.
The Psychology Community Doesn’t Respect Him
And it’s not just me who says Phil is ineffective and disagrees with his “methods”, if they can even be called that. Just ask any reputable psychologist what they think of him. He’s not respected in the psychology community. He’s considered a clown who’s doing more harm than good, giving people the wrong idea about the profession, displaying extreme arrogance and grandiosity, exploiting people, and being highly unethical.
Why People Like Dr. Phil
So why do people even watch the Dr. Phil show? I think there are two main reasons:
- Morbid curiosity
- Downward social comparisons
People watch the Dr. Phil show for the same reasons they watch Jerry Springer and other trash TV. It’s entertaining in a morbid kind of way to see other people’s life drama.
But I think people also watch the show because they get to make downward social comparisons. They gain a sense of superiority watching Phil embarrass people who are just looking for help.
Personally, it doesn’t make me feel better to compare myself to the (often mentally ill) people going through their worst moments on Dr. Phil. It just makes me sad that the show was so popular for so long. The fact that millions of people watched it thinking that’s what helping people looks like just shows how terribly misguided people are about mental health.
I’m not saying that Phil never helped anyone with his show. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. I’m just saying that there are far better ways to help people and increase mental health awareness than the trash TV show he created.
A great example of someone who is actually promoting mental health awareness is Dr. Alok Kanojia, a Harvard-trained addiction psychiatrist specializing in modern mental health. Online, he goes by the handle HealthyGamerGG. I plan to create a journal entry about Dr. K and his work in the future, but I just wanted to mention him here to contrast Phil with a real mental health advocate and professional.